Supreme Court rules illegally obtained evidence is admissible

In a 5-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court strengthened police power on Monday when it ruled illegally obtained evidence may be admissible in court.

The Fourth Amendment states “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause . . . and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In the case, Utah v. Strieff, a Salt Lake City police officer stopped Edward Strieff after the suspect was observed leaving a home suspected of drug activity. After detaining Strieff, the police officer ran a background check and discovered an outstanding traffic warrant.  The officer’s search produced methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

Strieff argued in court the evidence was obtained after an unlawful stop and frisk.

The district court and a Utah Court of Appeals upheld the decision, but the Utah Supreme Court turned back the ruling in 2015 and Utah’s Attorney General appealed to the Supreme Court.

In his majority opinion, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote:

“Once Officer Fackrell discovered the warrant, he had an obligation to arrest Strieff. Once Officer Fackrell was authorized to arrest Strieff, it was undisputedly lawful to search Strieff as an incident of his arrest to protect Officer Fackrell’s safety.  In this case, there was no flagrant police misconduct. Therefore, Officer Fackrell’s discovery of a valid, pre-existing, and untainted arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unconstitutional investigatory stop and the evidence seized incident to a lawful arrest.”

Unconvinced, Justice Sotomayor lashed out in her minority opinion and charged the majority was granting law enforcement “an array of instruments to probe and examine you.”

“Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language,” she wrote. “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong.  If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.”

“By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”


The Republic still stands.

Critics charge this case will rupture Fourth Amendment and will become a fuse leading endless gross violations of civil liberties.  Alarmists will broadcast this ruling will rupture the Constitution.

Both are wrong and this decision is no legal monstrosity.

The epicenter of Justice Sotomayor’s opposition to the majority ruling rests in the alleged targeting of minorities for “stop and frisk.”  Preferring homespun language to technical legal prose, Sotomayor wrote:

“It is no secret that people of colour are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’—instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger—all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.”

Perhaps Justice Sotomayor is unaware of an irrelevant fact of this case:  Edward Strieff is white.

Instead of a fixation on race, perhaps Justice Sotomayor should recognize probable cause had been established and police instinct is a valuable advantage in the war on crime.

While “stop and frisks” are unpopular, they are most unpopular with those engaged in nefarious deeds. The strategy has been particularly effective in inner cities:  It has netted thousands of illegally-owned guns, removed those with outstanding warrants off the streets and has also survived court challenges.

Assailed for suspending Habeas Corpus, Abraham Lincoln defended the act in a special address to Congress shortly after the Civil War flared in 1861.

“To state the question more directly, are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?,” Lincoln told Congress. 

A law may have been violated, but for the benefit of the public safety, it may be required.


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